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Marvel Studios' Stephan Franck Dishes On Animating The Darker Aspects Of What If...? Episode 4 - Exclusive

Even in a franchise that's been known to break down boundaries, the animated series "What If...?" has been a major game changer. With each new episode, the stakes get higher, and Episode 4 was a doozy for Doctor Strange fans. In "What If... Doctor Strange Lost His Heart Instead Of His Hands," we see our typically level-headed Doctor Strange follow a path of darkness to reunite with his lost love. During a time when the whole world is grieving, the episode poignantly sums up the collective mood of our own universe right now — and it couldn't have been easy to animate. Though the episode was undoubtedly a challenge to piece together, the payoff is certainly worth it. 

Looper spoke to "What If...?" animation supervisor Stephan Franck for an exclusive interview, in which he dished on animating Doctor Strange, hitting the right tone for the series, and honoring the emotional content of the dialog on the screen. 

Doctor Strange's heart of darkness

On how Franck went about injecting the heart, grit, and the darkness into the animation of the Doctor Strange episode, he said, "So, that's what's great about the MCU projects and including our episodes is that there is a whole range of tones. It's like life. I mean, like, no one's life is one tone. And what we're trying to do with the aesthetic approach of each episode is to really be in the service of that tone — and being in the service of those emotions, whether it's about excitement or whether it's about grief. Everything that's visual is there to support these emotions."

Franck continued, "For me, some of the most interesting scenes to animate are really when it's all about emotions — and when it's about subdued emotions. When it's about characters not necessarily saying what they mean or meaning what they say, or having something that they're feeling, but they can't say it. And just playing all that stuff in the animation is very subtle. And that's when the poetry of the art form to me really shines the most."

On the Doctor Strange episode specifically, he added, "There's definitely stuff where I have to pinch myself. If you told the eight-year-old me, 'You're going to get to do Stephen Strange,' that would have been just incredible. You've seen the episode, but there's a lot of very ... because it's the nature of Doctor Strange's world, there's a lot of very esoteric, abstract elements to his storytelling. And of course, that's been done really well with movies. That's been done really well with comics. And we had to find our way to render that." Well, the team definitely found their way, because there certainly wasn't a Marvel fan with a dry eye after that episode.

Fans can tune into new episodes of "What If...?" Wednesdays on Disney+.